I have a theory about the origins of the Cult of the Sentence. You see, the best way to teach literature, assuming that your students have already read it closely, is to talk about the author and the context, and then dive into what the story means, using especially potent passages -- sometimes just sentences -- to illustrate the point. You might also spend some time on passages or sentences that are more complex and require a bit of thought to decode the full value out of.
But of course this method is only the best way if your students actually have read the work before class (at all, let alone closely). Question: what would happen if decades'-worth of English majors graduated having barely cracked the books they "studied"? And what if they happened to be that late fruit of empire (snarkily called "snowflakes" in some quarters) who all believe they hit a triple despite their clearly having spent the game meandering between the bathroom and the sno-cone concession? In other words, what if they really believe they "know" literature -- perhaps even believe they should be writing it -- and their total comprehension of the "great literature" they believe they've read amounts to little more than the biographical highlights of the author, the outline of plot and theme, and a few GREAT sentences? (Many of which are very complex sentences, which, since they are read out of context, have interpretations that the students feel are random, smoggy streams of mystification?)
I believe this is how the cult of the sentence was born. (Not to mention the cult of sloppy logic.)
I would just like to state for the record that the easiest part of writing is putting together great sentences. (And I mean the great ones, the ones you find in Joyce and Woolf, that actually say something.) The hard part is doing something great with those great sentences: bringing characters to life, telling an affecting story.
I was just offered to write a book review, but with the explicit understanding that the review must focus on the sentences. ("Story and character don't do much for our editors..." -- I would suggest that's because your editors know nothing about them!) So, do I write a review in the model of the Cult, or do I just move on? (At this point in my career, I regret that I might just have to don the goat head and do the moon-dance 'round the altar.)
Labels: the cult of the sentence